Reciprocation and interchange in wild Japanese macaques: grooming, cofeeding, and agonistic support



Social primates spend a significant proportion of their time exchanging grooming with their group companions. Although grooming is mainly exchanged in kind, given its hygienic and tension-reducing functions, it is still debated whether grooming also provides some social benefits, such as preferential access to resources (e.g., food or mating partners). In this study we analyzed grooming distribution among wild female Japanese macaques living in two groups on Yakushima. We tested the tendency of monkeys to reciprocate the amount of grooming received, and to direct their grooming up the hierarchy. Then we analyzed the relation of grooming to three of its possible benefits: reduced aggression, increased tolerance over food, and agonistic support against a male aggressor. The data were analyzed by means of row-wise matrix correlations. Grooming was highly reciprocated (i.e., exchanged in kind) and directed up the hierarchy in both the study groups. No significant relationship was found between grooming and aggression. Conversely, grooming favored tolerance over food, since it was positively correlated with presence on the same food patch, close proximity, and close approaches (both within 1 m) during feeding. Grooming was also positively related to agonistic support against adult males, although this relationship became nonsignificant when we controlled for kinship. Although these results are not definitive, they suggest that monkeys may derive various social benefits from grooming. This conclusion is supported by the fact that in various primate species animals tend to prefer high-ranking individuals as grooming partners. Am. J. Primatol. 68:1138–1149, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.